Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Just Being with My Children

            Fourteen years ago, I was an average mom with a fourteen month old child and another baby on the way. I loved being with my child and couldn’t wait for baby number two. But I began to notice that my child was more active than other little children. She slept much less than my friend’s children and never slowed down during the day. I actually thought it was normal until one Sunday when I watched my child from the door of the nursery at church. I suspected then that I was in trouble. She literally went from one toy to the next. She wasn’t frenzied or out of control. She simply figured one toy out and then put it away, then went to the next toy and to the next until she had figured out all the toys that interested her. She then drew some and then went back to her favorite toys and class was over. When baby number two came I was hoping for a mellow child but no such luck.
            At church we kept people entertained for many pews around us. I would get comments like, “It is so fun watching your children that I barely heard any of the meeting.” Or “Are they this much fun at home?” I would answer, “You have no idea. I have way too much fun!” And that was the truth. My children were so active and so creative that life was always entertaining. From the little escapades like when my oldest wanted to get into my purse to find the make-up, she was maybe 11 months old, and while my husband and I were sitting not five feet away, she tries to sneakily drag my purse into the next room. I looked at my husband and said, “She actually thinks we don’t see her!” To the clever things they would say to the fun activities we were always doing, life was full and rewarding.
            When my oldest was about 2 ½ a good friend of mine called and asked for some help. He said he was taking a child psychology class and needed a child between the ages of 18 months to 3 years old, or something like that. I would need to keep track of her eating for a week or two and then he would perform a developmental test on her to see how she compared to other children her age. I thought that sounded like fun and agreed. After tracking her eating for a couple weeks, my friend came over and began the test. The test took forever and he kept apologizing for the length, ‘this isn’t how it went in class,’ he kept saying. He explained to me that he was starting each section of the test at about a 6 month younger level than my daughter's age but because she kept exceeding her age level it was taking much longer. By the end of the test, though she was only 2 ½ he announced that she was basically testing at a high 4 year old or a low 5 year old level!
            I had had many friends like this in high school, the highly intelligent and very creative types. Many of them struggled in school because they were so bored and uninterested. Many of them turned to partying or being the class clown and the results of this developmental test freaked me out. I called a dear friend of mine who had helped her highly creative and intelligent boys get through school and asked for advice. She was so good to talk to. She made a comment that more than any other soothed my fears. She said, “Christy, you have been doing just fine with these precious children to this point, you will know what to do for them as they grow.” I realized she was right. I had so much fun with my children. They learned so quickly and were so ‘alive’. We played from sun up to sun down and they were so happy. I would put my youngest in a backpack and my oldest in a stroller and walk all around our little college town. We would go swimming at the college, play in our wading pool, take walks through the botanical gardens, draw, paint, go to parks and enjoy the changing seasons. But I still wondered what to do as far as schooling went. Fortunately I had a few years.
            One of my most influential professors at BYU often talked about how he had homeschooled all nine of his adopted children! That was in 1992. During and after that class, I often thought of him and how in the world he and his wife did it but would dismiss that as a crazy idea for me. When my friend shared with me the results of the developmental test, I remembered again this idea of homeschool but again dismissed it as crazy. But over the next 3 years I began looking into other alternatives to public school and due to the expense always returned to homeschool. I found that the homeschool movement was gaining momentum and even approval across America and more and more of my age friends were considering it. I did a lot of research and found that there were some really appealing aspects of homeschooling like the opportunity of being with my children all day everyday, eating wholesome foods, more time for them to be children and play, and the freedom to choose what I taught my children and the freedom for my children to spend time learning what they really wanted to learn.
            I studied many theories on how to educate my children from Charlotte Mason to Thomas Jefferson to Montessori and others. I liked so many of the ideas, they were so freeing from what I had experienced in public schools. But I also was interviewing mothers that were in the public school arena and why they liked it and why they disliked it. I asked every question I could think of and then I did the same with the few homeschool mothers that I knew. I observed the children of each of these mothers . It wasn’t until one of the mom’s, who was teaching my child at her preschool, mentioned that my daughter would likely be one of the “trouble-makers” at school that I realized I needed to homeschool. It is humorous to me now why this good woman said what she said. She was trying to teach my child her abc’s (which my child had learned a year or more before) and my child wanted to play in their huge playhouse with the Barbies instead. My daughter spent hours as a 5 year old creating Barbie clothes and stories relating to the Barbies and she was bored with what this lady was teaching because my daughter already knew it!
            I realized that day that my decision was made up. I would begin to create an environment where my creative children could create, where they could pursue their talents and follow their specific missions in this life. It is interesting to note that by age 15 this same daughter has written a handful of her own music on the piano, some with words some without, she has written the first nearly 40 pages of an amazing fantasy novel and draws and paints beautifully, dances and sings breathtakingly and has studied things in-depth and as varied as frogs to Egyptology to WWII! Not to mention, she is a spiritually strong and independent woman who is beautiful, articulate and strong. I have thought often of what could have happened if I sent her in with the like-minded people in the public school system who would have forced my very intelligent and talented daughter to do what everyone else had to do and made her feel stupid because she struggled to read for the first few years of her life and because math doesn’t come easily for her. And instead I have been able to spend day after day with this amazing young woman, work on a special relationship with her and rejoice in her development. I wouldn’t trade a day of it for time to relax once the children leave the house.
            That was the straw, when the preschool teacher told me my child would be one of the “trouble-makers”. I am sure that I haven’t been perfect but I know that my children know who they are and are becoming what they came to this earth to become and I am satisfied. Over the years I have watched each of my children grow through challenges and blessings in their lives similar to my oldest. I have laughed and cried with them and through it all we have grown stronger together. I revel in the time I have with my beautiful creative children, each of them with their unique gifts that they are developing, some more scholarly and some more creative but all equally amazing. Simply being with my children has been one the greatest joys of my life.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

My Great-great-grandmother's Sewing Machine

Nostalgia, according to the free online dictionary by Farlex is 1. A bittersweet longing for things, persons, or situations of the past. Or 2. The condition of being homesick; homesickness. I believe Nostalgia is one of my deepest, most common feelings. I remember as a child, crying whenever I heard a baby cry. Not because I was terribly empathetic, though I am, but because it symbolized some deep sadness in me, some deep longing for something in my past. There were times as a child that I felt that bittersweet longing just sitting on my bed in the early morning or out in the forest exploring or while staring at the blue sky.

As an adult I often feel Nostalgia as I read a good novel like Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy where the Russian culture and people speak to my soul or when I learn about a good or brave soul who has conquered great odds to fulfill their roles and missions in this life like Joan of Arc, Thomas Jefferson, Jane Austin, Abraham Lincoln, Louisa May Alcott, or Yitzak Rabin. I love exploring old towns, populated or not, old homesteads, old railways and old buildings. I love sitting next to old trees, older than 100 years old, and soaking in their ancientness. The energy of places that have witnessed years of peoples comings and goings, like seaports, stir feelings of Nostalgia in me.

Recently I inherited my Great-great-grandmothers old Singer sewing machine. The most recent patent pending on it is from the July 23, 1901. That makes it almost 110 years old! It is in great condition and so beautiful to me. It sits in my front room, where I am writing right now and I stare at it often. Just looking at it I feel connected to my grandmas who spent hours making, mending and creating with this sewing machine. My Great-Grandpa actually motorized it in the early 1900’s which adds another dimension of Nostalgia to my new treasure.

When I first received my grandma’s sewing machine, I studied a little about the lives of my great-great-grandma and her family. The more I learned about them the more I loved my sewing machine. I think I was surprised that the Nostalgia grew the more I knew about them. I feared that learning more about them would make me less Nostalgic, like a mystery solved that removes all the built up of imagined wonder and awe. But it was the opposite. It grew more valuable every time I learned more about them. It was as if through time and space my heart connected to my ancestors through this simple sewing machine.

I wonder if the Nostalgia that I feel so often, is a force leading me to discover dear ones that have gone on before, and knowledge that I need to fulfill my roles and missions, or simply a guide to helping me find joy. Whatever the case, that poignant feeling of longing continues to bless me, lead me, and remind me of what is really important. I pray it never leaves.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Swirls of Blue

My favorite colors have always been blue and green, in that order. I am not sure but I think it is because of the sky and the grass. As a child I often wrapped myself in my blanket and lay in the grass on my back lost in the blue sky above me. Living in the Northwest meant that only occasionally would that blue be free of clouds but that was wonderful too. I loved watching the clouds change shape as they moved across the sky. Often the blue was simply swirls in-between miles of clouds but the blue always pulled me in.

There was something about lying on the grass and staring up into the blue sky that had a mesmerizing effect on me. The effect was similar to staring into a fire or watching the moon travel across the night sky or experiencing the waves of the ocean rhythmically crashing against the shore but the sky effects me differently. The sky is always there and is always changing and always calling to me, no matter where I am. Whether dark and threatening, calm and serene, or fiery as the sun emerges or recedes, or especially clear blue, I spend time daily lost in the beauty of the sky.  What calls to me in that eternal blue I am not sure but it stirs my longing for a Heavenly home and inspires my Spirit to soar into and through the clouds and into the great space beyond.

Fire hypnotizes my mind, helping me to be still. The moon pulls sadness and pain from inside and heals me. Waves of the ocean wash my soul clean, refreshing me. But the sky invites my soul to join with it, making me want to fly, inspires me to new heights. I feel the desire to “be still” more fully, more peaceful, and especially to be my true self. There is a reason the sky is over all else, whether we are by the sea, near an open fire, watching the moon or even in a city away from the healing effects of nature. The sky is like God, always there, always calling, inviting us back to Him, inspiring us to soar higher, be a little better, be more our true self, and be still more fully.

I think of Zeus, the Greek god of the sky. He was the most powerful of all the Greek gods. Ancient Greece recognized that the sky was over all, the most powerful, the blanket of the world. Renaissance painters used blue to represent the Heavens. In Judaism, blue is connected with God the father, and in the Catholic church blue is most closely connected with the Virgin Mary, who they consider to be the queen of heaven.* Peoples throughout all time have looked to the sky for guidance, whether to the sun or the stars. I feel a part of their ancient wonder as I look up into the sky and long for my spirit to be free, to soar with the clouds, or through the clouds and beyond.

Just the other day, it was grey and cold. I felt tired and found myself lying on my green comforter on my bed looking out my window to the clouds morphing as they waltzed across the sky. Before long, swirls of blue began to appear. Something about that blue resonated with my soul, reminding me of carefree days as a child curled up in a blanket on the green grass waiting for the sun to emerge through the clouds and warm me, mesmerized by the swirls of blue. I suddenly wanted to be better, more my true self, more peaceful and still, closer to the Heavens and to God.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Daisy Dew

For years I have chased the illusive “being” and failed. The only time I ever knew “being” for more than a snatch here and there was as a child. Summer months were filled with it: running through the woods playing Indian princess, lying in the grass watching the clouds change shape, walking barefoot through woodland creeks, sitting in the branches of a friendly tree or just curling up in a blanket on a grassy lawn. “Being” happened naturally, I never thought about it, I was free and “being” was part of me. Somehow, somewhere “being” turned into “doing” and it was a thorough replacement.

I think “doing” began replacing “being” in Kindergarten and was slowly reinforced until there was no “being” left. I walked into my Kindergarten room for the first time all ready and excited to “be” and was told right away what I must “do”. I must raise my hand before I speak. I must wait to play with the fun things until my work is done. I must wait patiently in line to wash my hands. I must not speak unless spoken to. All of these things were good to know and understand, except somewhere “being” stopped. Maybe it was the peer pressure to “do” what everyone else was doing. Or maybe, it was my inner drive to “do” the best at everything that didn’t allow me take a break and just “be”. I became very good at “doing” all the right things. I was a straight ‘A’ student, played volleyball, basketball, sang in the school select choirs from 7th grade on, served in student body government, and even served in leadership at my church. Often I slept for only three or four hours a night, just to get up and do it all over again. I was honored and petted as one of the best but no one, not even I knew that something had been lost, something that I needed badly but didn’t know how badly.
It wasn’t until I was involved in a terrible accident where my sister went into a coma the beginning of my senior year of high school that I realized that I had no reserves to face this tragedy. Two of my friends were seriously injured and my brother and I were traumatized but less injured. I was driving. One of my friends was also in a coma. I was mostly dead, figuratively; too stressed out and emotionally depleted to handle anything like this. I ran from the hospital my sister was at to hospital my friend was at back to my home where my brothers were left alone during all this. I kept trying to “do” something to put all the pieces back together, trying to “do” anything to make life “be” o.k. again. There was nothing I could “do” and I no longer remembered how to “be” and I needed to “be” so badly. I remember one night when I fell on my scabbed up knees pleading to the Lord to help me. For a moment I felt some of His “Being” wash over me. It felt so good, so peaceful, so opposite of everything I was feeling at that moment. I wanted more of it but I had lost my ability to “be” and all I could do was climb into bed and sleep.

Months later, my friend had somewhat recovered but my sister was still in a coma. It was spring. I don’t think I ever appreciated a spring as much as I did then. I remember an afternoon where I laid on the sunny hammock in our backyard staring up into the leaves and branches of our Big Leaf Maple. It reminded me of a tree in my backyard when I was really young. I could only reclaim bits and pieces of that memory but I remember loving the different shades of green as the sun played with the layers of leaves and I remember loving the blue sky peaking through as those leaves rustled in a beautiful warm breeze. I remember a fuzzy caterpillar crawling on a leaf and the wonder I felt at the softness and peacefulness of that small creature. I remember playing with ladybugs and the pure innocent joy I felt. It had been years since I had simply sat under a tree and felt mesmerized by the color and peace that is there. As I swung in that sunny hammock, I was “being”. I wondered how I could keep that feeling with me. But life moved on, my sister died a week before graduation and within three months I was off to college.

I must have done an o.k. job at “being” at college, at least at the beginning, because I failed every one of my classes my first semester. I just couldn’t get back into life. I couldn’t get back into “doing”. I played a lot and enjoyed the time off. Though I realize now that was expensive time off. All I wanted was to free myself from my pain and find a way to “be” like a child again. But I knew I couldn’t continue to “be” like this forever so I began to “do” again. I eventually got passing grades but didn’t get an ‘A’ until my final art class before I got married in the middle of my third year. Then by the end of the next year, I had my first baby. She was so beautiful, so fun and so full of life and though I suffered from depression, I loved every moment I had with her. She was the epitome of “being” and when I was with her, I was reminded often about how wonderful “being” was. But I couldn’t “be” like her…I was a mom and had to “do”! I had so much to “do”. “Doing” became my life again. I’d take time to play with my beautiful child when she needed me, or gaze wistfully out at her when I had to clean while she enjoyed “being” for “being’s” sake alone. I was still caught in the cycle of “doing” with very little “being”.

A little less than a year ago, I was sitting in my car waiting for that same beautiful daughter to finish her early morning scripture study class. She was 14 and I was still really good at “doing” but was finally praying more devotedly to find my ability to “be”. But ironically, I was reading my scriptures and pondering what I needed to “do” for the day. As I sat there in my car I had a feeling that there were some flowers or herbs that were ready to be picked. I was in the mode of harvesting herbs; it was that time of the year. I had already harvested the wild St. John’s Wort buds making St. John’s Wort honey and St. John’s Wort olive oil. I had also made honeys and oils with Mullein, Cottonwood buds and a couple other herbs. I love this time of the year and we are fast approaching it again. It feels like Christmas when I find these wild herbs, simply waiting for me to pick them. A sense of gratitude always overwhelms me as I harvest them. So, when I had the thought that there might be some herbs waiting for me, I quickly got out of the car and began exploring.

I followed my nose around the edge of the property but all the stinging nettle was old and spent and there didn’t seem to be anything else that I needed. At the very back of the property there was a single daisy plant with two perfect daisies on it. Early morning dew glistened on the petals. I was enchanted and picked one. I took it back with me to the car pondering why I would feel some herbs were there for me to “do” something with when there was none, I must have been mistaken. I looked at the precious daisy and took a bunch of pictures of it from all different angles. The little dew drops gleamed like crystals on the petals. I found almost thirty minutes of joy from that one simple daisy with dew on it.

As I was texting my brother one of my pictures that morning, I realized what is probably plainly obvious to you right now. There wasn’t something for me to harvest that morning, or something more to “do”. I was invited to feel something, to enjoy something. I was invited to simply “be” that morning. At that moment, I finally got it. I realized that “being” can’t be chased by “doing” more. “Being” only happens when I slow down and enjoy what is all around me to enjoy. “Being” is allowing myself to feel the joy that dew on daisies bring and taking the time to follow those feelings that lead me to little daisies with dew.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Grey Peace

I was born and grew up in the Great Northwest. And it is great. Grey, calm days filled with light rain and glowing green trees filled my soul with their peace from birth. This influenced me greatly as a child. I could never get enough of the outdoors. From the time light began to grow in my room until frogs filled the twilight air at night, I wanted to be outside. I remember following ants, or wandering from tree to tree, stopping to examine pinecones, buds on trees, caterpillars, leafs, flowers, berries and rocks. One of my friends had a gentle stream that ran through her woods behind her house and we spent countless hours walking peacefully through the stream picking horsetails and rubbing the moisture from the break on our stinging nettle bumps to sooth the stinging, spreading my feet out in the soft mud, picking Salmonberries, and enjoying the speckled sunshine that broke through the canopy of Big Leaf Maples, Vine Maple, Alder, and Evergreen trees above us.

But things changed as I went to school and was disconnected from nature’s tranquility for the majority of the day. I was often too fatigued when I finished school and activities to feel the peace of a grey wet day or follow ants around but some days, usually when I was particularly tired or lonely, I would find my way to my old climbing tree and climb up to a favorite crook in the branches and sit, soaking in the peace that radiated from my tree and my woods. By High School, I rarely found my quiet places in the woods, except on special occasions when we would take a walk on a Sunday with my family through the falling autumn leaves, or ride our three wheelers back through the mud puddles in the forest trail. I had become a very busy person, with so many things to do. I did everything, quite literally. I was an intense nearly straight A student, A-‘s made me whine. I was involved in Student Government, Select Choirs, sports, church leadership and any fun activity I could get involved in. By my junior year of High School I often bragged about getting 3 or 4 hours of sleep a night…though I could only do that for so long before I got sick or spent a Saturday sleeping until 1 or 2 in the afternoon to recover.

College was better, only in that my sister had been in a coma my entire senior year and that had forced me to slow down…a little…and it carried over into college where I had learned to play harder than ever and was learning to enjoy life again, simply for life’s sake but I still didn’t know how to slow down. By the time I was married and had a couple babies, my pace only got worse, the amount of things I felt I had to do was completely unrealistic. Everything I did, I did in a run, run, run, crash pattern. Though I thought I enjoyed nature and tried to teach my children to, I still wasn’t allowing myself to slow down enough to feel the peace and calm of nature. We were living in the Mountain West and had sunshine most the time. And though I missed the moisture and green of the Great Northwest, I was happy to have sunshine and the energy of go, go, go all the time. It fit me better…then.

As a young mother, my husband and I moved back to the Northwest to be near our families. We had two young children and El Nina weather that year gave us a record 90 days in a row of rain! My children spent many days inside. That was a rough year. I had already been dealing with depression that seemed to hold on long after post partum blues should have departed. I began feeling more and more physically exhausted and in pain. I complained about the grey wetness outside that made me feel even more depressed and tired and rarely ventured out in it. I travelled from one doctor to another and became irritated when they figuratively patted me on my head and told me that all young mothers feel tired. I began to research and found that I probably had fibromyalgia. I learned all I could and was diagnosed by two doctors who confirmed that fibromyalgia is what I had. I then went to work at my normal frantic pace to cure it.

After eleven years of trying everything I know of to heal myself, I have finally admitted to myself that I really have fibromyalgia and it isn’t going away. I did not want to accept that the only option I have left is to slow down! But I have finally given myself permission to do just that. I realized that if this is not going away, I have to learn to live within the bounds of fibromyalgia and this has changed my life. It has helped me to sit down and write articles like this where I am learning I have been yearning to slow down for years but didn’t know how. I have been able to clear out clutter that was adding ‘busy’ness to my life with no great payoff. I have finally given myself permission to go to bed early, to not push so hard during the day, to slow down and feel more peace. It is ironic but accepting that I have this painful, exhausting, incurable disease has helped me more than ever enjoy the grey, dark days of our Northwest Winters instead of blaming them for my pain.

I realize that since I entered school, I have been fighting against the slow, peaceful rhythm that has called to me since I was a child running through the green woods. And though I am aching for spring sunshine and the radiant beauty that makes the darkness of the winter worth living here, I love and accept the peaceful calming ambiance that settles into my very soul on these peaceful winter days in the Great Northwest.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Celtic Ambiance

For the past ten years I have had a yearning, one of those deep soul longings, to connect with my Celtic roots. It started when my husband found out that three or four of his ancestral lines go straight back to Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland. For the last ten years we have travelled around to Scottish Festivals and listened to Celtic music with its harps, flutes, and of course bagpipes. We have felt the thrill of listening to multiple pipe bands coming together from all over to play Scotland the Brave as they march into a large green field all arrayed in their colorful kilts. A tangible reverberation swells through the air and never fails to bring tears to our eyes. We watched young girls, even our own daughter for a time, dance traditional Scottish and Irish dances. We laughed and cried as we watched famous Scottish stories from days gone by come alive as actors reenact them. These festivals along with reading to my children about England and Scotland’s History and gathering Celtic music and pictures of my native Western Washington’s natural beauty has enlivened my desire and nostalgia of my Celtic ancestor’s homeland.

As this yearning has grown, I have learned to appreciate the calm, misty, grey days of my beautiful Northwest climate. As I look out my window now, across a gentle valley to a hillside of dark green trees, I imagine how it would feel to be looking across a glen or moor filled with Heather as mists rise after days of rain. I can’t seem to take enough pictures of the green flora and fauna and long to take hikes up into the moss covered mountains here. A couple years ago I framed a picture of a river that alone would have been breathtaking but there was also a waterfall emptying into that river. Everything around the waterfall, and even the river with its mossy boulders and green hues is so, well…green, so alive, it takes my breath away every time I look at it, still. The peace that emanates from these picturesque parts of the Northwest stirs my Celtic longings.

When I was young, I often heard about my mother’s German roots that stirred her soul and connected her with her paternal grandfather’s homeland of Germany. As a result of these longings, we ate Corned Beef and Cabbage and loved to visit Leavenworth, a re-creation of a Bavarian Town in Eastern Washington, during the Holidays. I knew my father’s parents’ ancestry was largely from England but always thought of myself as largely German. A few years ago, I stood by my mother’s gigantic genealogy chart in her office and decided I wanted to know how much Celtic I really had in me. I tallied up an accurate percentage of where my roots go and to my surprise, I was 75% Celtic (mostly English and Scottish with a little Irish thrown in). That explains the tears every time I hear the bagpipes!

I can’t seem to read enough about Scotland, England and Ireland. I love reading of their tumultuous history, of the rise and fall of good and bad monarchs. I loved learning about Queen Elizabeth and her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots and the even more ancient Queen Boadicea with her flowing golden hair. I wish I could have met King Alfred the Great and his wise mother. I get furious every time I hear about King Edward Plantagenet and his mistreatment of the Scots. I love Robert the Bruce and thrill every time I read about him finally deciding to fight for what he knows is right even though he knows that everything and everyone he loves will be put in harms way if he does. My favorite Saint is Saint Patrick. I love how he loved the very people who had been his captors. I love reading Shakespeare, Jane Austin and George MacDonald, as much for their wonderful stories and writing as for the connection to my Celtic roots that I feel as I read about the people and times that make up my homeland.

Some day I hope to be able to travel there. To see the moors that Emily Dickenson never saw, to walk through the ancient castles and manor houses, to stand on the Eastern shore in Sussex where many of my ancestors stood, to feel the feeling of being on the land where my ancestors lived, loved and died hoping for a better tomorrow and dreaming of how life would be for their children. I am sure that one visit will never do but I hope it isn’t a disappointment after all the wonder I have felt for the last decade. I hope that it will feel like I have dreamt it would, that it will even maybe be better. Most of all I hope that once I go there, this feeling won’t go away but grow and that the wonder of it, the Celtic Ambiance, will ever be a part of me.  

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Swallows and Airplanes

The warmth of the spring sun appears for moments at a time and then dims as lazy, fluffy clouds move across the sky. I stand soaking in the sun and reveling in the luke warm breeze. I gaze up into the blue and white sky, happily thinking thoughts of what is real versus what is not real. A swallow catches my attention with its sharp moves and aerodynamics. I watch for a moment, my history with this creature stirring in my subconscious and filling my soul with peace and happiness.

I remember a day shortly after my sister died when I sat on the banks of the Columbia River seeking peace. That day a solitary swallow appeared in my left peripheral flying down the river along the surface and as it passed in front of me tipped its wing to me like airplane pilots tip the wing of their airplane to say hello or goodbye. But the swallow’s message was more like shalom, a Hebrew word which is often used to say hello or goodbye but the deeper meaning is peace be with you. Whatever that dear swallow meant, I felt peace along the Columbia River’s edge. I felt in a deep part of my soul that my sister, though dead, was o.k. and I would be o.k. too.

But this spring day I simply felt the awe and peace I feel whenever I watch swallows, and I pondered what is real and what is not real. The swallow was definitely real. The swallow circled again and joined its companions in a perfectly executed display of aerodynamics. While I enjoyed their dynamic aerial dance, far above them a jet airplane made “tracks” in the sky. “Tracks” is what my children called Jet Streams when they were young. This jet was at the 40,000 foot level and large, probably a 747. The jet stream came off in beautiful white lines from at least 4 engines; a dramatic display of power, ingenuity and the ability of man to overcome gravity and conquer the skies.

My feelings for the airplane were mixed. On one side the awesome power and man’s ingenuity, on the other the false sense of security, the tragedies connected with airplanes, and the vague sinking feeling of airplanes being on the “not real” side of my recent thoughts about what is real and what is not real. I couldn’t quite place my feeling but it was connected to the realness of the swallow and my peace and happiness that I felt as I watched that little bird and the not realness of what I felt when I saw the airplane. Both the swallow and the airplane inspired awe and respect. Both the swallow and the airplane brought up deep feelings. But I felt peace and inspired by the swallow while I was left with mixed feelings about the airplane. I knew that I didn’t feel like one was all good and one was all bad. Swallows can be pesky as they nest in the eaves uninvited and can leave white excrement everywhere. But there was a distinct difference between the two that I couldn’t quite place.

What makes something real and makes something else not real? Why would I feel like a swallow was real and an airplane was not? If I could get close enough, I could touch both. If I had enough money I could fly in one and for free I could watch both fly. I know people deeply inspired by airplanes, similar to how I have been deeply inspired by swallows. So what was the difference? One of the main differences is that swallows have a living soul and airplanes do not. Another main difference is that swallows are deeply and undeviatingly focused on their missions in this life. They are born with instincts that help them to find food, mate, take care of young and live happily. Airplanes can be used for all the good or ill people choose to use them for, 9/11 being a horrifyingly dark reminder of the ill use of airplanes.

As I stood their in the warm spring sunlight one moment and the shade of a cloud the next, I felt deeply a desire to search after and surround myself with things that are real. I also felt cautioned to use carefully those things that are not real.